Here’s some good advice: beware of my holiday destinations

The joke among our family and friends is that, when I choose to visit a particular part of the world for a holiday, something dramatic often happens there.

The latest incidence of this recurrent pattern follows my recent posting that this year I’m hoping to visit five of the -stans of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This week, we learn the news that there is massive social unrest in Kazakhstan. It is understood that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – an alliance of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – will dispatch forces to “stabilise” Kazakhstan.

I suppose my personal connection between travel and trouble started when I made a first visit to what was then Czechoslovakia in 1988. We smuggled material into the country for the underground movement and took other material out for them. The following year, the country overthrew Communism in its ‘velvet revolution’ which triggered other revolutions in Central & Eastern Europe.

In 2003, I made a visit to Nepal when the Maoist insurgency was still active. The day after our arrival in Kathmandu, the chief of police, his bodyguard and his wife were killed while on an early morning walk on the outskirts of the capital.

In 2008, I made a visit to Cuba. Just two weeks before our departure, Fidel Castro announced that he was stepping down as the world’s longest-serving president after an astonishing 49 years in power.

Then there was my trip to Iran in 2009. A few months before my holiday, the disputed presidential election led to massive demonstrations by the Green Movement. The domestic situation became calmer and we were able to make the trip in the first week of November even though this coincided with fresh demonstrations around the 30th anniversary of the taking of the American Embassy hostages. We visited a member of the Green Movement in his home in Tehran.

The saddest occurrence was the follow-up to my  trip to Syria in 2011. Just a couple of weeks after our departure, demonstrations started that soon led to armed conflict and then a full-scale civil war that has now been running over a decade. Around half a million have been killed and over 12 million Syrians – half the country’s prewar population – have been displaced from their homes.

In 2013, I visited Bangkok as a break on the flight to Australia. The next year, there was a coup d’état in the country which is still ruled by a military dictatorship.

In 2014, I made a tour of Central America, visiting Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Three of these countries have had brutal civil wars which are now thankfully over, but three have them are ravaged by violent street gangs and drug groups, with two of them having the highest murder rates in the world outside of actual war zones.

In 2015, we made a trip to Ethiopia which had recently emerged from a prolonged period of authoritarianism and brutality. This fascinating country was ripe for a growth in tourism but, a year ago, it descended back into civil war.

In 2017, I had a two-week holiday in Sri Lanka. The bitter civil war was over but, all the time I was there, there was talk of the late arrival of the south-westerly monsoon which they have at that time of year. It hit the island just after I left: at least 100 people were killed and nearly 500,000 displaced.

In 2018, I made a trip to Colombia. The long-running civil war was technically over but, in the city of Medellin, a look at the shanty town of Comuna 13 had to be cancelled. More than 30 street gangs or “combos” operate throughout district. Nevertheless, the area has become a tourist attraction. However, on the morning of our proposed visit, our guide announced that there had been a recent upsurge of violence in the area and it was no longer safe for us to go there.

I think you may see a pattern here …



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